Faith in practise: Part 4! Personal reflections on the nature and battle for faith.

I have been looking at lessons we can learn about faith from the life of Abraham. This time I want to look at the fact that Abraham enrolled in the school of faith, spending a long time learning about faith prior to graduating.

We need to grow in faith; we need to learn to distinguish the voice of God so that we can exercise faith rather than presumption.  Sacrificing Isaac was the climax of Abraham’s walk of faith; his passing out from the school of faith. He was only able to make this amazing step of faith following years in the school of faith. In fact whilst he was in the school of faith he didn’t always do so well at the end of year exams. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews chooses not to mention these failures for reasons we will come to. The writer of Genesis tells us all about Abrahams failures as well as his successes

Exam 1. After Abram leaves his home following being called by God there is a famine, Genesis 12, so he heads for Egypt. We then read in verse 11

“As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, “This is his wife.” Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.””

Not really what you would expect from a champion of faith – what sort of marks would you give him in that exam? I think he gets a fail.

Pharoah does take a shine to Sarai and “she was taken into his palace” – whatever that means…… then in V17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharoah and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai.

God proves himself faithful, despite Abraham’s lack of faith, they go away with lots of possessions.

Exam 2.  Abram had received a promise that he would be the father of a great nation. Guess he talked a little bit about it. Maybe even boasted about it and got the normal ridicule, “God said what – can you be sure?” Yes of course. “But they can’t even have a child…” So together this great couple of faith decide to give God a helping hand to enable the promise to be kept. Abram has a child through Sarai’s maid.

Marks out of ten???????

Exam 3.  This exam is a resit of exam 1, this time not with Pharaoh but Abimelech king of Gerar. Abraham,  man of faith passes Sarai off as his sister again. Further failure.  See Genesis chapter 20.

He even fails his resists!

The point I want to make regarding the school of faith is that we learns lessons about trusting God even through failure. Every time Abraham fails an exam he goes back to a point of faith. God repeats his promises. There is no reprimand, just encouragement to keep going, to keep learning lessons of faith.

There are consequences of failing our exams, it would have been better if Abraham hadn’t fathered Ishmael. However failures do not mean we are expelled from the school. What God is looking for is that we graduate.

At this crucial time I want to encourage us to exercise faith; to walk by faith not by sight; to not be overwhelmed by fear but to exercise faith. Faith is the antidote for fear.

We need to recognise the difficulty and challenge of it – realise the stigma of faith.

We also not to ensure past failures do not discourage us,  Satan will remind you of you failures – yet God remembers our successes. The NT doesn’t focus on the exams Abraham failed – but the fact that he graduates. Even if you have failed a few end of year exams are you still happy to keep your place in the school of faith? Willing take some more exams – ready to pass the big one?

I’m up for it – this country is going to be transformed by people faith – we need to respond with faith to God’s grace – what about you?

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

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Faith in practise: Part 3! Personal reflections on the nature and battle for faith.

In my previous two blogs I have been looking at the challenge of faith. I want to build on that in this blog.

I remember watching a TV programme many years ago where a scientist explained how it was possible to walk across a bed of burning coals. He wanted to say it wasn’t about faith but about science. I’m not an expert and it was a while ago but what I remember is that what is important is that your feet are dry. If they are dry then the heat doesn’t travel, but where water is present then you will get burnt. If you are nervous you will sweat, this causes the soles of your feet to be wet and therefore you will get burnt. If you are confident there will be not water and you can walk across the coals without getting burnt.

What made great television is that older man rolling up his trouser legs, removing his shoes and socks and running across the burning coals, putting his faith not in mind over matter but the laws of science. He went across unharmed.

Faith is never theoretical, it is immensely practical but we put our faith not in the laws of science but the promises of God, far more reliable. This is demonstrated by the life of Abraham, one of the men whose faith is described in Hebrews 11.

V8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

V9 By faith Abraham he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country;

V11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age – and Sarah herself was barren – was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.

V17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son.

We can learn many lessons about faith from the life of Abraham.

Firstly faith always has a stigma attached to it. Faith is internal, not something you can see. All the things that Abraham did by faith, e.g. moving home, sacrificing son, were all without external confirmation. I can imagine his friends saying ……you’re doing what, leaving home because “God told you to”. How do you know, how can you prove it?

The opinions of others matter to us, hence faith is so difficult. Most of the things we do as Christians which go against the expectations of society come with a stigma; we do them by faith which is hard to explain. So easy to try to explain them away, to lose the stigma of faith, but in the end we can’t.

There is a key difference between faith and presumption. The devil tempts Jesus to throw himself of the temple as God will send angels to catch him. Jesus replies quoting the Old Testament that we should not put the Lord our God to the test. Matthew 4.

I’ve known a number of instances where Christians have exercised presumption, presumed that God will do something for them, rather than exercise faith. I remember one couple renting a house bigger than they needed and costing more than they could afford because they felt God wanted them to and would therefore make money available. He didn’t and they were evicted, bringing the name of God into disrepute. God is faithful and will keep his promises. However we must distinguish between what he has promised and what we would like him to have promised!

In my next post I will look at further lessons from the life of Abraham.

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Faith in practise: Part 2! Personal reflections on the nature and battle for faith.

Hebrews 11v1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Further to my previous blog on the nature and challenge of faith I want to follow up with a specific example of promise, faith and fulfilment.

It was 4 years ago when we first started talking about the possibility of us being able to buy the building that is now Hope Church Centre. At the very first occasion this was mentioned Theresa Middleton had a vision of a hearth with a roaring fire (when she eventually looked round the building she saw that there was such a hearth in one of the 1st floor bedrooms). In the vision blue, icy, cold, skinny people came in and sat close to the fire, they left fat and rosy. As a consequence she felt the building needed to be a home, with God’s presence tangibly present. People coming into the building could feel the love of God, they would feel cared for.

A while later, when we had bought the building, Theresa came to me saying felt called to give up a day a week to fulfil this vision. So 2 years after the initial picture Open House started. A place for church people, people they brought and for the community to feel at home, to find a safe place. A small team of people served Theresa and her vision, opening up the centre every Monday and Wednesday from 10.30 until 3 for light refreshments; games and friendly chat.

The initial reality was a long way from the vision. We met in the conservatory but hardly anyone came.  After a year the decision was made to move into the Main Hall. It is only in the last 6 months that the original vision has started to become a reality. We now regularly get at least 20 people, sometimes up to 50 attending.

The journey of faith was a long one, from initial vision to being able to put it into practise took 2 years, but it was another two years before things took off as anticipated. It would have been so easy to have given up, but Theresa and her team didn’t, they exercised faith. Now they can live by sight rather than faith.

Other users of the building a including a back to work group; language school classes; the debt advice centre are finding a home with a sense of the presence of God. Different members of the wider community are coming in and experiencing home, we even have health visitors arranging to meet clients here. Regular church people of all ages come with their friends and experience what Theresa saw so clearly four years ago.

Theresa needs to be commended for her faith, how many would have persevered for so long and at such cost to see the vision God gave become reality? Faith isn’t easy but when we finally see it all becomes worthwhile.

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Faith in practise: Part 1! Personal reflections on the nature and battle for faith.

Hebrews 11v1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Over the last little while I have been giving some thought to the nature of faith, in particular the fact that we prefer to talk about it than to exercise it. There are a number of reasons for this.

We like to be able to see things, now what is happening and is going to happen. However by definition if we can see we don’t need faith!

Faith is tough. I learnt early in my Christian journey that it is not much fun being half way through a miracle. Daniel in the lion’s den is a great story for everyone except Daniel when he was still in the den; or Peter in prison expecting to be executed in the morning as had just happened to James. In both these cases, and many others in Scripture, God did mighty miracles. These miracles are great to look back on after they had happened but then faith wasn’t needed. Daniel and Peter could only exercise faith half way through the miracle and that was tough!

Sometimes faith is tough because of the intensity of what we are going through prior to seeing, as in the example of Daniel and Peter. At other times it is tough because the length of time between receiving a promise from God and that promise being fulfilled is so long. This was the case for Abraham waiting into his old age for his promised son or for the apostle Paul to become the apostle to the gentiles prophesied about on the Damascus Road. Paul had to wait over 10 years for that to become reality, for him to see the promise fulfilled.

There is always a period of time before we see where we have the opportunity to exercise faith. This is an opportunity for faith but we don’t always exercise faith. Faith is confidence whilst we wait. Hype or pretence is easier.

Faith itself isn’t a good story, so not something we actually focus on. We need sight for a good story. So most stories we tell are from the vantage point of seeing the promise fulfilled. Good stories can encourage us to exercise faith in the future; they point us to what God has done and therefore encourage us to wait for him to do it again. However they don’t always help us exercise faith is the present!

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

Interesting books read over the Summer : Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours? (Roland Allen Library) (Allen, Roland)

This is a book I have seen quoted in numerous books on church planting but until the summer had not read. It was such a treat to finally read a book written over 100 years ago and to find to so relevant and challenging. It was probably the most relevant and challenging book I read all summer.

There were so many challenges. There was the general challenge to consider the effectiveness of our contemporary church planting.

“Is our progress commensurate with all the money and effort expended? Is that progress, if any, as rapid as the work of church-planting by the great Apostle? Are we actually planting new churches or merely perpetuating a mission?”

Then there were more specific challenges. For example my attitude towards new converts and how I approached their discipleship.

“We can more easily believe in His work in us and through us, than we can believe in His work in and through our converts: we cannot trust our converts to Him.”

“The facts are these: St Paul preached in a place for five or six months and then left behind him a church, not indeed free from the need of guidance, but capable of growth and expansion.”

“Nothing can alter or disguise the fact that St Paul did leave behind him at his first visit complete churches. Nothing can alter or disguise the fact that he succeeded in so training his converts that men who came to him absolutely ignorant of the Gospel were able to maintain their position with the help of occasional letters and visits at crises of special difficulty. “

He then talks about how Paul ensured these new converts were taught so that they were able to quickly be given responsibility. Paul taught them to teach themselves, not to rely on him.

“The meetings of the church were gatherings for mutual instruction. Anyone who had been reading the book and had discovered a passage which seemed to point to Christ, or an exhortation which seemed applicable to the circumstances of their life, or a promise which encouraged him with hope for this life or the next, produced it and explained it for the benefit of all. That was the secret, there lay the source of all the early Christian literature.”

“By teaching the simplest elements in the simplest form to the many, and by giving them the means by which they could for themselves gain further knowledge, by leaving them to meditate upon these few fundamental truths, and to teach one another what they could discover, St Paul ensured that his converts should really master the most important things.”

“There is something in the presence of a great teacher that sometimes tends to prevent smaller men from realizing themselves.”

“he scarcely ever lays down the law, preferring doubt and strife to an enforced obedience to a rule.”

As Allen says….

“It would be better, far better, that our converts should make many mistakes, and fall into many errors, and commit many offences, than that their sense of responsibility should be undermined.”

I have so much to learn about developing and releasing new converts. I came away realising I need to take far more risks, I need to be much less fearful of failure.

He speaks with a contemporary relevance and challenge regarding reaching whole provinces with the gospel by initially focusing on the main city.

“ St Paul’s theory of evangelizing a province was not to preach in every place in it himself, but to establish centres of Christian life in two or three important places from which the knowledge might spread into the country round.”

But then the challenge………….

“great cities are great prisons as well as great railway stations.” And

“We are sometimes so enamoured with the strategic beauty of a place that we spend our time in fortifying it whilst the opportunity for a great campaign passes by unheeded or neglected.”

To what extent are we locking up the people in our cities rather than sending them out? Have I got the right perspective regarding training people to go?

I found the balance, insight and depth of understanding in his treatment of the miraculous astounding considering when it was written.

He observes

“At Antioch, Derbe, Thessalonica, Beroea and Corinth no mention is made in the Acts of miracles in connection with the preaching of the Gospel. Thus it would appear that the importance of miracles in the work of St Paul may be easily exaggerated. They were not a necessary part of his mission preaching: nor was their influence in attracting converts as great as we often suppose.”

However he also observes that “His miracles attracted hearers” and “miracles prepared the way for the preaching”.

He goes further recognising

“Miracles were universally accepted as proofs of the Divine approval of the message and work of him through whom they were wrought.”

And “Miracles were illustrations of the character of the new religion. They were sermons in act. ……. St Paul’s miracles illustrated the doctrine of release, of salvation.”

I am challenged to keep this biblical perspective regarding the miraculous, not to place too high an expectation on their impact but also not to underestimate their importance either. We need to be expecting them in the same way that Paul did, and as Allen encourages to.

These insights from 100 years ago regarding our attitude towards new converts and how we help them grow; our willingness to see our church as a railway station rather than a prison and the import place of the miraculous all speak to me and I believe the 21 Century church.

WRITTEN BY TONY THOMPSON

tonyt

Tony is an Elder at Hope Church Luton and part of the Leadership team.

He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.